The exhibition Artful Nature and the Legacy of Maria Sibylla Merian celebrates the skills and influences of a remarkable woman from seventeenth-century Europe. Maria Sibylla Merian lived and worked in a time of vibrant intersections of art and science in Europe. Her images of insects and plants are at the center of the exhibition, but it is important to understand how her work was shaped by this period. Gettysburg College students Emily Roush ’21 and Shannon Zeltmann ’21 designed the exhibition to show examples of what came before Merian and inspired her work, as well as to demonstrate how she influenced the natural history studies that followed the publication of her books on the metamorphosis of moths and butterflies.
Merian researched, wrote and illustrated books that created a pivot point – combining ecologically related plants and insects for the first time. Christiaan Sepp, Moses Harris, and Mark Catesby, whose works are included in this exhibition, represent just a small sample of the innumerable artist-naturalists who were influenced by the work of Merian. Art can play a role in shaping science, and through Merian’s work, images changed how we understand the world.
The exhibition is also a testament to Gettysburg College’s commitment to student learning. With the guidance of Professors Kay Etheridge (Biology) and Felicia Else (Art History), Emily and Shannon selected the prints, organized them into categories, and carried out research on them, authoring essays for a catalogue and wall labels. With the help of Systems Librarian R.C. Miessler they also created this informative website so that the exhibition can live on past its closing date.
Roush and Zeltmann’s outstanding work builds on previous student research and curatorship, showcasing the dynamic interaction of art and science in the days of the Renaissance and beyond. Both were involved in an earlier student-curated exhibition in the Schmucker Art Gallery, Wonders of Nature and Artifice in 2017 (see https://wonder-cabinet.sites.gettysburg.edu/2017/).
Professor Felicia Else, Department of Art and Art History
Professor Kay Etheridge, Department of Biology
We are grateful to Prof. Etheridge for graciously loaning several of the original prints in the exhibition and guiding the acquisitions of additional prints, made possible by a generous gift from Betsy A. and Bruce R. Stefany ’71. Eighteen prints by Maria Sibylla Merian, Antonius Sanderus, Albertus Seba, and Moses Harris have been added to Gettysburg College’s Fine Arts Collection.
We are delighted that these prints have fostered Shannon’s and Emily’s research and they will be available for further examination for students and faculty in Special Collections and College Archives. Additional thanks are due to Sydney Gush ’17, Schmucker Art Gallery Preparator and Digital Scholarship Assistant.
Shannon Egan, Ph.D., Director, Schmucker Art Gallery
Carolyn Sautter, Director, Special Collections and College Archives,